Tegenkamp Defends, Peyton Surprises at USA 20k Champs

By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2013 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

NEW HAVEN, CONN. (02-Sep) -- With a patient approach, Matt Tegenkamp shook off the effects the soaking humidity and misting rain here today, and retained his USA 20-K title at the 36th Stratton Faxon New Haven Road Race.  While his victory --his sixth national title-- was expected, Meghan Peyton was the surprise winner on the women's side, earning her first national crown.

For Tegenkamp, 31, who will make his marathon debut in Chicago next month, today's race was an important test of his overall fitness, and the two-time Olympian gave himself more than a passing grade.  He said he was particularly pleased with the outcome because he had to fight off a cramp which struck him in the first five kilometers.

"That was an 'A' effort," Tegenkamp told Race Results Weekly.  "That was off of a tough week of training.  Fridayculminated five weeks of really intense volume, and starting the intensity which, actually, would make you more tired."  He continued: "Saturday and Sunday was my, quote, taper for this, and try to have just a little more bounce in the legs."

Tegenkamp, who lives and trains in Portland, Ore., stayed nestled within the lead pack of 11 through 5-K (14:51), and let early leaders Ben Bruce, Augustus Maiyo, Joseph Chirlee and Shadrack Biwott do most of the work.  He focused mostly on four-time Olympian Abdi Abdirahman and just tried to stay on the pace which he thought was overly ambitious given the 90% humidity.

"Nobody took into account any humidity," Tegenkamp said just after he finished.  "I mean, it's a race.  You've got to go and you don't know what everybody's going to do.  It was so humid."

In the 7th kilometer, as the lead pack passed the famous Yale Bowl, Abdirahman suddenly grimaced, did a few hops, and reached down to grab the back of his right leg.  He said later that something just popped.

"Something just popped in my hamstring," said Abdirahman.

Just past 8-K, reached in about 23:50, Biwott swerved left to pick up a cup of water, dumped it over his head, then surged ahead of the field.  Shooting a few glances back to the field, he saw that only Tegenkamp, Abdirahman and Chirlee had responded.  By 10-K (29:35) the race was down to just four.

"These guys probably noticed that that I was hurting, and this guy takes to the front," Abdirahman said pointing at Biwott who couldn't help but smile.

Every time the race went downhill, Abdirahman would fall back because of his hamstring, then catch up on the flat section which followed.  He was clearly struggling to maintain contact with the other three men.

"I almost dropped out," he said.

As the race approached 15-K, Chirlee was unable to hold the pace, and fell back.  He would finish fifth, passed eventually by Josphat Boit.  Tegenkamp stayed focused and tried to envision himself during the long grind of a marathon.  He was careful to pick up his drinks and run the tangents of the course.

"I've talked to a lot of veteran marathoners, and they said that the most important thing about the marathon is you've got to be able to manage the down parts, the bad parts of the race," he explained.  "And that's what I was trying to do, conserve some energy.  It's a long race and start it when there's four miles (6.4 km) to go."

Just past 10 miles (16 km) in 48:25, Tegenkamp made his first significant move.  He quickly put two steps on both Abdirahman and Biwott, but Abdirahman was soon able to catch up.  Tegenkamp waited, then pushed again with about a kilometer to go.  Abdirahman couldn't respond this time, and Tegenkamp glided to the finish adjacent to New Haven Green in 1:00:10, well off 58:30 championships record from last year.  He earned $9000 in prize money.

"I feel really good," Tegenkamp said, adding that he was "really looking forward to the process" of completing his marathon training.

Behind him, Biwott was able to catch up to Abdirahman, and pass him for second inside of the final 10 meters.  He timed 1:00:20, one second up on Abdirahman.

"He's a tough guy, man," Biwott said of Abdirahman.  "This guy's an animal, period.  You can't underestimate him.  He can limp with one leg, but he'll make you work for it."

Peyton, 27, of Minneapolis, not only won the race, but did so by a surprisingly big margin of 28 seconds.  Only Mattie Suver of Colorado Springs could stay close to her in the latter stages of the race after she left the main pack about halfway through the race.  She seemed slightly stunned speaking with Race Results Weekly after breaking the tape.

"I'm really excited," said Peyton, who was timed in 1:09:57.  "When I got the lead at 6 miles (just before 10-K), I just kept repeating to myself, 'you can win it, you have to believe, win it, you can believe in yourself.'"

Peyton, who finished 16th in this race last year, said she had come to New Haven to contend for a high finish, despite not significantly cutting her training volume in advance of the USA Marathon Championships at the Twin Cities Marathon in one month's time.

"I knew I was in good shape, but I was aiming for top-5," said the Saucony-sponsored athlete who runs for Team USA Minnesota.  "Until I got into the race, then I was, like, 'I can win this, I can do it.'"  She added: "It's amazing.  It's something you dream of all the time."

Suver, who is running the ING New York City Marathon in two months time, was also satisfied with her effort.

"I couldn't quite get her," said Suver.  She continued: "I definitely didn't do much of a taper for this.  The New York City Marathon is the goal, and I have a workout tonight after this race, actually.  Today's a double."

The third podium spot went to former University of Wisconsin runner Caitlin Comfort, the reigning Big 10 10,000m champion, in 1:10:43.

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